Gender quotient of time-bound and thought-constrained marketers
The thought about writing this piece occurred to me after an email interaction with my colleagues at CV with regard to replacing the word ‘housewife’ with ‘consumers’ in the heading of an article. Although the team obliged, it was not without the argument that this was the term used by market-research organisations across the globe, acceptable to all, and politically correct. The argument sounds justified in the first place. Only when you dissect words like ‘acceptable’ and ‘politically correct’ that you realise that they have a stereotypical connotation to them. Reverting to the team’s query, I offered a simple explanation: For market-research agencies, almost everything and everyone – including women – are merely a category of buyers. They speak in terms of statistics, which is no language. Moreover, the sheer purpose of their business is to categorise consumers with the specific purpose of creating data that can help the brands sell. (Over the years, the Nielsens, IMRBs and ORGs have done their job quite well. They have visualised, surveyed, bifurcated and categorised people on the basis of their incomes, ages, races, regions, religions and gender. They have also generalised their behaviours on paper. For example, for a marketer, all men of XX age in YY income profile in ZZ geography may buy AA product if the ads have XXX type of content.)
The point here is that such marketing- and sales-oriented categorisations and generalisations have had their impact on the genderparity discourse and movement. Come to think of it, there are certain taken-for-granted norms in our society – norms that have never been part of our culture, but are followed like rituals – and none of us ever questioned their origin. For instance, why is pink for girls? I often counterquestion the salesmen at toys, garments, groceries and toiletries stores who want to know the gender of my child before starting to show their stuff on sale. They say nothing, of course, but their dumbfounded expressions tell me that they have never thought of this before and it will take a while for them to understand (if at all) that such a skewed notion is one of the many things that they have internalised thanks to reinforcement of stereotypes.
While advertisers and marketers argue that their content reflects values that already prevail in a cultural context, they however cannot deny the fact that advertising greatly influences the values of their target audience, and that they have been, whether consciously or not, guilty of exploiting ethical values, playing with aspirations, and positioning women as a commodity or in any case playing a secondary, supporting role in the household context. Socio-cultural academia says that masses tend to incorporate stereotypes presented by the media into their own concepts of reality. Advertising impacts people’s behaviours and greatly influences their relationships with themselves, their bodies and their partners... it has the ability to alter perception and change or create opinions. Of course, while we cannot pass on all the blame to advertisers and marketers, we know that they have contributed towards perpetuating the ‘continuum’ of biases. If biases existed, they have widened the gap by showcasing men and women differently; they have continued to cash in on gender roles.
So, now that you know it all, what must you do next? How can you alone influence the gigantic corporate advertising conglomerates? Well, now that you too own a media – this magazine that you are holding in your hand and its digital equivalent, why not point a finger where you must, draw them into a debate, and question whatever you think is inappropriate. Your one comment on any company’s FB page, one difficult question on their intent, ethics and dynamics can make a lot of difference. Begin somewhere.